Direct-response ad buyers seem aggravated about limits on using gender, age, and location in promos on the social site.
Facebook is attempting to put the kibosh on marketers that loosely employ user profile attributes - such as gender, age, and location - in their ad copy, ClickZ has learned. During the past two weeks, the Palo Alto, CA-based firm has implemented an evaluation program - part automated and part human - designed to decline ads featuring user attributes that are deemed irrelevant to the actual offer.
Ads that are legitimately either locally targeted, gender-specific, or aimed at an age demo will apparently not get struck down while going after those audience segments. However, ads submitted with arbitrary profile-based copy - such as "37 and male in Los Angeles?" - have been met with rejection, some marketers say. A similar system is being used to weed out ads that incentivize a click-through (e.g., "Get A Free Laptop!") but do not deliver on the promise for several pages - if ever.
"The quality of ads is important to us, and we're always going to take steps to make sure that people on Facebook see the best ads," said Annie Ta, spokesperson for Facebook.
The new restrictions likely won't affect Fortune 500 brands, because they typically don't use the tactics being taken to task. However smaller lead-generation marketers for direct-response niches have seemingly been thrown into a bit of a tailspin. Dan Sommer, CEO of Caridan Marketing Labs, has clients in verticals like financial services and higher education, and he said their click-through rates have dropped since Facebook's policy shift. Sommer said a fall in their completed lead-gen forms has manifested, as well.
"If I can call out [in an ad] that you are a male in New York, that is a major driver for click-through rates," he said. "Because they are not allowing that anymore, [the ads] are going to be a little bit less engaging and relevant."
Oz Sultan, executive advisor for Perks Consulting, buys Facebook ad inventory for several companies while also working with some of Sommer's clients. Sultan stated that his clients collectively advertise to the tune of $250,000 a month on the site.
The policy changes are "having a cascading impact," he said. "Because if you are running CPM deals on Facebook and you are looking for the conversions you were getting even a month ago - you are not necessarily going to see those. [Also], we are not actually going to know the outcome to all of these policy shifts until they are done. We are just kind of getting the 'bear with us' [talk] right now."
Sultan and Sommer indicated the buzz in the marketing community was that a fairly large queue of advertisers had called Facebook either to get explanation on the policy changes or to complain. Facebook's Ta said, "As a matter of policy, we don't comment on our discussions with our advertisers and partners."
Meanwhile, Sommer was diplomatic when addressing Facebook, comparing the situation to how Google altered search policies 10 years ago. "It's kind of like the early days of SEO...where all of the sudden you'd be off the first page and undiscoverable, and it'd really interrupt your business," he said. "You really have to stay [alert] and work with Facebook very closely to figure it out. We are seeing a lot of ups and downs right now because of that, as Facebook tries to strike the right balance for consumers."
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Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.
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